Report of the 16th Ipce meeting
21 - 23 May 2004, Hamburg, Germany
1. Members speak out
Two members have just been released from hospital although still unwell, a third member caring for one of the patients. Four others had to cancel their attendance at the meeting shortly before it, for other reasons. Fifteen people, members and guests, were present. They came from Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and two other more distant countries. The meeting was more or less in two languages: English and German. An important element of the meeting lay in giving members the opportunity for informal contacts with one another.
The introductions in the first round were:
The members present were a mix of ages and histories: some had grey hair and had visited earlier Ipce meetings, others were young and were at their first meeting. Most people present are active people, active in groups or web sites, or are writing books, articles, gathering texts, and so on.
... and their situation
Only one member presented himself as being in a deep depression. All others mentioned problems, but also said to have balanced minds, energy, hope and courage.
have had a difficult year. An infiltrator who had gone from one self-help group to another, had won the trust of many members, and had gone to the police, written articles and made three TV programmes about his experiences. The same journalist carried out a similar action about five years ago, be it on a smaller scale. The group in Munich especially had to cope with a lot of house raids and arrests. Most of them are free again now, but the group still cannot function. One has to wait until all court trials have been held.
Other groups have had also problems, among others, the three Berlin groups. Two of them still exist, but now more or less as informal groups without any further organization such as address lists. There were five arrests. These people are getting help from the groups. The Bremen group has changed its place of meeting from a public to a private one. The Rhein-Ruhr group has closed - out of fear. Before this undercover operation, there were ten active groups in Germany. After it, there are three active and five 'sleeping' or pausing groups. All groups know people who have retired into their shells, re-isolating themselves in their private lives out of fear. So, the infiltrator’s action was 'successful'. Still, Hamburg still has a good functioning group of people who know each other quite well. The AHS still exists and is active, though cautious.
The Germans are also plagued by strange new laws as well as pressure from the media and some so-called 'child-advocate' -- factually very right-wing -- groups in the country. "Cold times", so was said. In Germany, words can be illegal in a specific context. For example: nazi-propaganda words are illegal in the context of a nazi web site, but allowed in a critical article. Likewise, the now notorious "Stephan.txt" has been declared pornographic in the context of a pedophilia-related web site. Thus, because of that context, some words suddenly become pornographic. That verdict, however, has been overruled now in appeal. Some people or groups are studying now if this new law could be unconstitutional. Groups such as Nazi groups can legally exist as long as they keep themselves within the limits of the law. Likewise, ped-groups can exist on the same condition.
A new law forbids one to speak positively about crimes, whilst more intimate contacts with children are seen as abuse and thus a crime. Clearly, speaking positively about it is regarded as dangerous by the public, whose opinions have changed a lot in Germany. This provides police with grass roots support and much room for oppression. The fear is that laws of this kind will also be adopted at the European level.
However, there are increasingly more critical people, among others certain scientists, who form a counter movement against this trend. As an example, a professor was mentioned who not only spoke about 'abuse', but also of 'the abuse of abuse' within the abuse-ideology. Pedophilia was presented as a normal phenomenon, a variance among humanity, that does not necessarily lead to 'real abuse'. Another example is the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Humane Sexualität, , who sees sexuality as a positive force in human life, regardless of its orientation.
In the Netherlands
the group JON still has problems after the house raids and arrests. Nevertheless, the group functions, helps its members and continues with its talk sessions and publications on the web. An intensive defence of the group against accusations has helped. It has been formally declared that, as a group or organization, JON is not the subject of any criminal charges. Nevertheless, the group has lost members and leaders, because their fear was stronger than their hope or courage. In future the group will better inform its members about the laws and their legal rights. It has become apparent that not all members knew their rights or other laws very well, or were otherwise unable to cope well with interrogations, which are well-known to be quite manipulative.
Other groups are still functioning well in the Netherlands: other self-help groups, the Association Martijn, the Magazine KOINOS and others. KOINOS has art and fiction as its central themes. The publication is felt to be more a hobby rather than a political action. Still, art can change society. The magazine includes other languages now and thus is running successfully as an international medium.
In the USA
NAMBLA's situation is still more or less problematic. There is a lack of capable and active people available for the Steering Committee. The group has re-organized itself by becoming one group and dismissing the chapters.
The moral and juridical climate in the USA is far worse than in Germany.
Nearly every new law or regulation is absurd.
In the UK
it is not possible to have a group, but people know and help one another effectively. In the UK a real witch hunt is going on, fed by absurd laws, very powerful police who seem to forget the laws, obtrusive journalists, panic-provoking media with ‘name and shame’ campaigns, and a lot of TV programs, which all constantly speak about those "dangerous criminals" named paedophiles. A new law forbids "grooming", whatever it exactly may be, so even speaking with a child can result in severe punishments.
From the south of Europe was told
that the climate there remains more liberal and not as conservative and right-wing as in Northern Europe. People in the south have more relaxed attitudes and follow their gut-feelings, being less rationalistic. Strange laws were not seen in the south. There were ‘scandals’ in Portugal and child porn raids in Italy.
As has been described in the previous Newsletter, the Danish group DPA has folded. A new group has arisen like a Phoenix and replaced the web site, but we do not know more about the situation in Denmark. A lot of other countries have no groups or organization at all.
Purposes, plans & questions
Most members present were mostly there to meet the others in person and to learn about their well-being or problems. Within Ipce, most communication takes place by electronic means, but it is good to meet the person at least once a year. While describing their motivation for attending this meeting, several members referred to our meeting in Berlin, 2001, which is said to have been very inspiring and encouraging. Also Copenhagen, 2003, was mentioned as such, while Rotterdam, 2002, was felt as more or less dull. People hoped for inspiration and encouragement.
Plans were to continue and to try out new kinds of action. Questions were about strategy and ways to activate and organize people.
Self-help and other groups clearly have had, and will have to face problems like infiltration (Germany, earlier NAMBLA), false testimonies (the Netherlands), difficult laws and prejudiced journalists - and so on. How to prevent these?
Two different ways were mentioned, in addition to a general rule.
In a group like the NAMBLA Steering Committee, the leaders have responsibility for the safety of its general membership. Within such groups, one Steering Committee member must know another very well. To know a lot about one another may prevent infiltration with a false identity.
In the case of other groups, such as chat groups on the internet, the use of anonymity and nicknames is more usual. One does not know one another’s name and address, so nobody can make it public. For good communication, so has been said, one needs no real name. People who want to meet one another in real life, can make their own individual choice. Such a group exists in the Netherlands, a group of mostly young people full of ideals and idealism, some of them active on their own web sites or otherwise - maybe later becoming the successors of the grey-haired people.
However, infiltration by ill-motivated people cannot be entirely prevented. One has to be conscious of the risk. Anonymous chat sites are quite easy to infiltrate. In more personal groups, it is more difficult but still proven to be possible. The German infiltrator had prepared his job very carefully. He had a real existing address, a good story, and even was sometimes accompanied by two young boys who also told lies.
So, the general rule is: do or say nothing that you won't have published on the front page of the newspapers. This requires self-discipline. Meetings such as we have now, do not interest newspaper journalists. What we discuss here - and publish now - is not the kind of information they or the public want. Because there is always a risk, one should also be courageous enough to remain active, to form and lead groups, which might be organized according the Steering Committee model or the chat site model. Both have their risks. A certain level of publicity is needed, otherwise new people cannot find the group. There is no choice, as long as you want to reach and help people - and because there are not many people really active in this field.
These people should be also able to create leadership: to have the knowledge, vision and capacity for organizing human power. For example: do not ask for more active membership of board members during a meeting: prepare this and ask people personally before. Also: divide tasks so that simple concrete tasks can be undertaken by new active members.
Risks? Life is risky. Living implies the expectation of risks and problems. A group as a whole has a shared responsibility, but no group can be trusted completely. Thus, you can trust only yourself - and remember the general rule given here above. Do not be surprised if you discover your phone is tapped, as happened in the Netherlands. Caution should be your style of living. But it should also include being courageous and active in helping one another, and studying carefully the laws of your country.
For example: a person, arrested on the basis of false accusations is scarcely able to defend himself because police or prison guards may block every communication. He needs help, and the helper needs a good knowledge of the law and the judicial system. An idea is: make pamphlets for your members with the juridical knowledge they must have.
Another example is this meeting. Different feelings and ideas are expressed about the taking of photos at informal moments like meals in a restaurant. At the one end of this spectrum are those who express fear of wrongful use of photos of a group, which serve to help those who quickly speak about 'networks' in their investigations or infiltration. They point to the fact that in several countries personal rights and freedom are greatly limited. At the other end of the spectrum are those who say we should not be led by fear, and who will not limit their rights and freedoms through fear. The sensible middle path is: caution and prudence along with respect for those who refuse to be on a photo.
Some of the members present say that they have been very much helped by their group over the years. Personal consciousness grew, stress became better to cope with, we have learned to live with our feelings within the limits of the law, and so we may have our feelings without guilt or stress.